- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2006

With 80,000 members of the D.C. Bar Association, the nation’s capital has more lawyers — and lobbyists — per capita than any other city in America, so what sets Ted A. Howard and David A. Reiser apart?

“There are a lot of lawyers in D.C. who do a lot of good work, but they are not as quiet about doing it,” said Jonathan M. Smith, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. “Ted and David in important ways have undertaken to represent the poor and given tremendous amounts of time to ensure that justice is equal in the District.”

The legal services organization celebrates its 74th anniversary this evening at a gala honoring Mr. Howard and Mr. Reiser each as a “Servant of Justice.” The dinner at the Capital Hilton is the public service agency’s major annual fundraising event.

Humility is the watchword for Mr. Howard and Mr. Reiser, both 49. Each said he was surprised to be selected for the honor and accepted it on behalf of the countless “unsung heroes,” to give them incentive to keep on defending indigent clients.

The award lets other lawyers “know that recognition is available,” Mr. Howard said. For the license to practice in the most powerful city in the world, Mr. Reiser said, lawyers here have a “certain obligation” to do pro bono work.

“How does our society deal with justice?” Mr. Smith asked during an interview in the Legal Aid offices at 666 11th St. NW. “The District of Columbia’s motto, ‘Justice for all,’ speaks to a mission but doesn’t live up to the model in very important ways.” Ninety percent of the District’s income-eligible residents who need attorneys can’t get them, Mr. Smith said. In the city’s Landlord and Tenant Court, which he called “the poor people’s court,” 85 percent of the landlords have legal representation, whereas 1 percent of tenants do.

The Servant of Justice Award is based on “the fundamental principle that the quality of civilization is measured by its ability to achieve justice, not just for some, but for all,” the Legal Aid Society says. Recipients have demonstrated dedication and “remarkable achievement in ensuring all persons have equal and meaningful access to justice.”

Mr. Howard and Mr. Reiser may bill their private clients $350 to $500 an hour, but the volunteer work for Legal Aid, as Mr. Howard said, allows him to “stay grounded” and have a positive impact on people with day-to-day legal problems “who don’t have the capacity to reach in their pockets and offer a $100,000 retainer.” Though both men have earned reputations for being strident advocates in the courtroom, both are painfully reticent to speak about themselves in private.

For his part, Mr. Reiser’s voice gets louder, he draws closer to the edge of his seat and waxes passionately only after being prompted about his clients’ or the tenants’ rights.

The soft-spoken Mr. Howard remains reserved, only a twitch under his eyes revealing the passion that surfaces when he talks about saving a client from execution. Mr. Howard, who maintains a commercial practice with Wiley Rein & Fielding LLP, also has a thriving pro bono practice that includes issues dealing with the death penalty, DNA tests, AIDS in prison, jail overcrowding and consumer law. He also is representing a group of Montgomery County parents in a class-action lawsuit against the school system for the way in which it tests students to determine who is eligible for the gifted-and-talented program.

Mr. Reiser, with Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, was a criminal and civil litigant for more than 15 years in the D.C. Public Defender’s Service, where he served as lead counsel in the case that closed the Cedar Knoll facility for city juveniles. He worked at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has taught at the Georgetown University Law Center and helped Legal Aid establish its Appellate Advocacy Project.

Deeply involved in cases about affordable housing and tenant rights, Mr. Reiser became interested in issues of economics and diversity because of the work he saw public-interest lawyers doing in the 1960s. Like Mr. Howard, he too has represented death-row inmates in post-conviction proceedings.

“I’ve never shaken off the idea that lawyers can work for social change,” Mr. Reiser said. “For me, economic justice is an important goal.” A fair- housing advocate, he pointed out that the rate of condominium conversions in the city was four times more in the first half of 2005 than for all of 2004. At the same time, 60 percent of all rental housing units will no longer be subsidized.

“The flip side of this boon has had disastrous effects,” he said. “Every time we lose [an affordable rental unit], we are losing the best way of maintaining a community that isn’t highly segregated.”

Asked what his most memorable case was, Mr. Reiser replied, “the next one.” After two decades of advocacy, he has learned that “the fights don’t stay won; you’ve got to keep fighting on and on.”

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